Prayers For People Who Say They Can't Pray [NOOK Book]


Almost everyone prays: believers, unbelievers, wanna-be believers and might-have-been believers. It assures us all in our many parts and many moods that everything is going to be okay, despite any evidence to the contrary. When people say “I don’t know how to pray,” what they often mean is “I don’t believe.” Or perhaps they are struggling with disappointment or anger with God and have taken a break from their prayer life. This book is written to remove these obstacles to prayer and to show how honest prayer ...
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Prayers For People Who Say They Can't Pray

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Almost everyone prays: believers, unbelievers, wanna-be believers and might-have-been believers. It assures us all in our many parts and many moods that everything is going to be okay, despite any evidence to the contrary. When people say “I don’t know how to pray,” what they often mean is “I don’t believe.” Or perhaps they are struggling with disappointment or anger with God and have taken a break from their prayer life. This book is written to remove these obstacles to prayer and to show how honest prayer doesn’t require belief or trust nor does it need constant satisfaction. This book introduces new ways of prayer and thinking about what prayer is--to offer the reader a new experience because sometimes our heart has a wisdom that our head does not. Whether you are someone who believes, hopes to believe, almost believes or simply trusts that offering a prayer means something, this book is for you.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426796043
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press
  • Publication date: 11/4/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 443,226
  • File size: 826 KB

Meet the Author

Donna Schaper serves as Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. She has also served churches in Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. She is the principal in a consulting firm called Bricks Without Straw, which shows not-for-profits how to raise energy and money and capacity, and has been involved with a series of turn-around congregations and a host of social-action issues. In addition to serving as pastor, she has written several books. Donna lives in New York, New York.
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Read an Excerpt

Prayers For People Who Say They Can't Pray

By Donna Schaper

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2014 Donna Schaper
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-9604-3


Ordinary Prayers When Waking, When Sleeping

Prayer can turn an ordinary day into an extraordinary one. Einstein said there are two ways to understand life: first, that nothing is a miracle, or second, that everything is a miracle. The prayers here sense the sacred in the ordinary. They believe that everything is a miracle, if we but give it the consciousness it deserves.

I remember the way I went to sleep as a child. Pastor Witte had taught me to pray. His instruction was less an invitation than a command. "This is what you should do when you go to sleep." Should was a big word in the religion of my youth, and it rarely occurred to me to question it. I just did what I was told. I am no longer able to be religious or spiritual in that way. Thus I reach for ways to pray beyond the should.

But first, the old way. On the way to sleep I was to mention everyone I loved and name him or her by name: Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Papa Ike (our borrowed grandfather), Cathy (my sister), Jesse (my brother), assorted aunts and uncles. As an innovation on the ritual I also prayed for my cats and dog. Pastor Witte didn't mind, nor did he ever know.

When I woke up, I was to give thanks for the opportunities and challenges of the day. I was encouraged to wake slowly and sleep slowly, giving time to a ritual of preparation and benediction. I didn't even know the word ritual then. But still I had one. I had a way to lie down and a way to get up. It involved prayer.

Back in those days, in a small river town on the Hudson, I also had a glow-in-the-dark cross. As soon as the light faded, it ignited with light. The darker the better was its motto. The cross was as plastic as plastic could be, but there it was—shining—if I woke up in the night. That plastic cross managed my dreams and my nightmares, just by being there, in the same way that the prayers managed the obligation I felt to others. The morning prayers were simpler than the evening ones. "Thank you for my school. Thank you for my ice skates. Thank you for breakfast." They went quicker because the usual day had only two or three things happening at any given time, unless it was a holiday, when thanksgiving was appropriate for jelly-filled cookies. If I had three cents in my pocket, which I did every now and then, there might be the jelly donut on the way to school. Prayers for jelly appear to have been featured.

I also had childish pictures on my wall, in the lower bunk bed. A waterfall. Some words from the teacher. I had a ritualized life. Now I do not: I live in airports, hotels, my country place, and my city place. I wish I still had a night-light to carry along to my multiple-choice beds. Or if not a plastic cross, then at least a pattern to my peripatetic being. I long for the patterns as much as the prayers.

What has replaced my ritual is a longing for ritual. But, I do have a few. I light a candle when I start my morning writing. I insist on prayers whenever I eat, wherever I eat. I carry a coffee cup around and refill it. I don't know how I stopped the childhood practice of prayer on the way to sleep and prayer on the way to waking. I do know that it stopped, and that I found other ways to stand on the threshold of my time.

During that long period of having children at home, mostly when my head hit the pillow, I went to sleep. Waking up usually had to do with someone in a wet diaper jumping on my belly, wondering what was for breakfast or if they could turn on Sesame Street.

Now in the empty nest, if not the empty next, the cell phone has become a bit of a ritual. I use it as an alarm clock and as a good morning, picking it up to see what I missed while sleeping.

I can justify the cell phone ritual. But I don't think Pastor Witte would approve. I am interested in what is going to happen next. I am overly concerned about my grown children and wonder if they will have e-mailed or texted while I was dreaming.

My husband and I do have a morning ritual, which is a snuggle. It makes me very happy and is surely close to prayer in its power. But I practice a new version of the old should. I practice it before I pick up the cell phone on a good day. It resembles the pattern of yore: at night give thanks for those you love. In the morning give thanks for what you are looking forward to during the day. Find at least three things and name them: coffee with a friend, dinner at home, and strength to make a hard phone call. These "forward lookings" or "long thinkings" give prayer an anticipatory pattern. The morning prayers help to name thanksgiving for what is to come.

In Jewish practice there is a mezuzah on the front door. On your way out of the house, you touch it, giving thanks for your home. On your way in, you touch it, giving thanks for a safe return to the place you call home. In my childhood practice and with the mezuzah, there is a great sense of threshold, a sense of God as guarding our "goings out and our comings in."

I have a friend whose ancient African American grandmother told him to wake up and check out the news. Why? "Let's find out what they done to us overnight." She was praying but in a terrified way or at least a way to mitigate terror. She taught her grandson a morning ritual.

I offer these prayers as a mezuzah, a way to guard the thresholds of nights and mornings. You may want to follow Pastor Witte's instructions. They do help sleep along. You may, upon rising, want to answer the question, "What are you looking forward to today?" You might even want to acknowledge dread: "What do you fear today?" Rituals that guard our goings out and our comings in are important.

Everybody has a night and a morning, whether you are a poet, a racist, or a prisoner. Saying yes to others at night and to self in the morning is a good way to pray.

* * *

When I wake up in the morning, let my first thought be gladness to be alive. Let me slow into the waking and wake to a long slow day. Keep that cell phone and computer close by, but let them not be in charge. And if I can't pray before I touch a button, let me pray right after I've checked out the world's wide web. Amen.

Let me remember those I love, by name, even if they are far away or no longer close in spirit. Or let me announce my excitement and dread for the day, in such a way that I stare straight at them with spirit and with power. Let me not just act but also reflect my way to action. Let me ritualize my rising and begin my own days my own way. And when I am slowly ready and slowly awake and genuinely ritualized, let me rise. Amen.

* * *

Holy Spirit, you are a kind of dailiness that makes the ordinary extraordinary. How do we solve a problem twice our size? Bite off a piece of it every day. Chew it. Enjoy it. Resolve it. Be done with it and move on. That's how. Show us how to live the way you live, one holy step at a time. And dedicate this little bit of my self and my day to the complete coming of your entire realm. Amen.

When I go to sleep at night, let me name those I love and say thank you to them again for being alive. Let my goings out and my comings in have a bit of pizzazz, O God. Let me be a person with rituals: a mezuzah to touch, a keychain to treasure, a long walk home on a nice night. Let my stopping and starting aim somewhere. And keep chaos at bay. Amen.

* * *

Thoreau wanted to live deliberately the way that I want to be fully awake. Deliberately awake. That is my goal. Is it all right if I meet the goal slightly, every few days? Or is something more complete demanded of me? Amen.

* * *

Tranquility: what the heck is that? I have a feeling someone somewhere knows what it is. I'd love to find out. Can you teach me, O God, or must I be my own teacher? Amen.

When I ask for transformation from a monkey mind, one that jumps from tree to tree and subject to subject, I am not asking for pamper camp, as though I were still a baby. I am asking for a discipline, not from the outside, but from the inside. Let me be a person who can focus on one thing at a time and is in charge of myself. Amen.

* * *

When I listen to the whispered longing of my own heart in my own ear, I hear my heartbeat for justice and fairness, my soul crying out for liberty and joy. Give me permission to really feel and want these things today, yesterday and tomorrow. Thank you. Amen.

* * *

William Butler Yeats argued that we can "live with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet." Grant me ferocity, clarity, and quiet. Amen.

Help me to pray for all the towns and cities in which I have lived. Let me start with the first one, where I was born, and enjoy it street by street. Let this be a long project and a long prayer. Don't rush my memory. Amen.

* * *

You promise, O God, prophets and seers. You promise a cold cup of water to the straggler on a hot summer day. You promise that we can lose to gain and have what we can let go of. I thank you for your promises. Amen.

* * *

For a little peace, a little purpose, and a lot of satisfaction, I pray. Guarantee that I rise with vigor and retire with grace, and not just today but in a way that teases eternity with my presence. Amen.

My prayers are such small boats, such little bridges. The ocean is vast, the world enormous. I stand in awe at the small chance to be a small part of it. I consider my e-mail address and the World Wide Web and stand amazed at where I can go and who I can be. Let me be at home in my small home and in your large world. Amen.

* * *

Wake me up with your beauty, O God. Let me see you wherever you are. Let me tell you just how good you look to me. Amen.

* * *

For a way to sing a strange song in a strange land, and not to care who is listening, I pray. Put all my regrets in a pile every day and let me find a way to live past them into what's left of the future that has not been stolen by the past. Amen.

Help me define why I am here, O God, and then walk with me towards that future. Aim me with an aim that is worthy of you and me. Amen.

* * *

Grant me the confidence to see through and to the other side of betrayal. Let me pay attention to my part in it and find a way to either cease and desist or at least gain forgiveness. When I can't get to the other side of betrayal, find someone to stand with me, right where I am, and to retain hope in the other side. Amen.

* * *

Parent us, O God, and let us know where we come from and to whom we truly belong. Let us find a way to thank our parents today, whether they are dead or alive. Amen.

* * *

Train our muscles, O God, to see the truth and to love it. Teach us to recover and then to move again. When I go to the gym, let me exercise all of my parts. Amen.

Help me get better at finding the questions at the heart of most answers, the beginnings inside most endings. Amen.

* * *

Timeless God who became time in Jesus, draw near and rest our alarms. Let them go off at the right times, to you. And also, if it pleases you, let us rest. Amen.

* * *

Gifts mount in us, but all we can manage is a few dollars in the plate. Let us erupt into time and space like a volcano of giftedness—and please accept our overflowing selves as an offering. We know that we have riches to squander. Let us squander some toward you. Amen.

Surely, our days are numbered—by birth, baptism, confirmation, marriage, death, and all the birthdays in between. Surely, our breaths are numbered by what moments we allow ourselves breathtaking experiences. Thanks be to you, Great Numberer, for the days we have. Amen.

* * *

Gloom we always have with us. Joy requires tending. Tend in us joy—and let us tend it in others. Dispense the gloom easily and puff it away, then breathe in the joy. We know what money can't buy. It can't buy us love, and it can't buy us joy, and we want both. Empty us so that we can be filled with good things. Let nothing be wasted on us. Amen.

The best revenge is not to become like the one whom you hate for hurting you. Marcus Aurelius and Nietzsche both said the same thing another way: Let me not become the monster I am destroying in you. Let there be no need to destroy in me. Instead, let me be a great collector of life, one who fills out what is missing by imagination and forgiveness. Amen.

* * *

Let me pick up one stone today. One that no one else has yet touched. Let me love it. Let me touch the stone with a warm hand and steal the cold from it. Open my heart to a new generosity, a melted insecurity, and a warm hand that refuses to go cold on life.

"The best time to plant a tree is yesterday," says a wild old saying. Johnny Appleseed is celebrated as a great man. Why? He gave something to life that would outlast him. He followed that great Boy Scout dictum that advises us to make one improvement on life before we exit. Spiritual gleaners glean the future as well as the past. Teach me how to glean. Amen.


Prayers for Those Who Are Too Busy to Pray

How can you be too busy? Too busy to exercise? Too busy to pray? What are we saying when we say we are too busy?

My favorite book is A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Published in 1977 by Oxford University Press, for architects and designers, it lays out a Western version of Feng Shui. What is around us matters. If a house has a window seat in it, that will matter to the psychology, spirituality, and freedom of the inhabitants. If a room has more than one window, we will enjoy the room more. We will make the room "roomy." We will inhabit the space.

What a wonderful word, inhabitant. The one who dwells there, habits there, and makes ritual there.

If we spend all day in a windowless room, the lack of spaciousness and openness will hurt our spirits. We will find ourselves in a narrow way, which is the Hebrew notion of sin. When we live in the narrow way, it is like sin. Sin is distance from God. It is the refusal to maximize our human potential. It is also to miss the mark of our living and to become as Martin Luther said, "Incurvatus in Se." Curved in on ourselves is the translation. When we live in a room with windows, we pattern ourselves out of sin. We are not sinless but on our way out of sin, getting closer to God, closer to our true selves and releasing that terrible curve of the spine and the hurt which turns in on itself and consumes itself.

Many of us have become patterned to discomfort. We imagine the commute will be rough. Traffic, we say, what else is new? We imagine with annoyance that there will be a Starbucks and a Subway on every corner—and guess what, there is. Oddly, time explodes while space conforms to a certain sameness. Prayer helps us take time out of chaos and even to see space with more diversity. It gives us a beauty to comfort us while we also live in the ugliness surrounding.

Prayer interrogates what we mean by being too busy. Too busy for what? Who is inhabiting our time and space if not us? Who is telling us what to do with our time? Have we been invaded by outer space or by aliens? I can name some of the aliens, those who alienate us. They are our to-do lists, our jobs, our patterns of living without patterns. The aliens are a cultural economy to which we assent. We are to work longer, harder. We are to succeed. We are to consume. We are to get to the top of the pile or at least take our children to tutoring so they will get high test scores so they won't be at the bottom of the pile. We know our marching orders. They do not include prayer because no one is going to pay us to pray. That being said, prayer locates the inner space that can conquer the invasion by the outer space aliens. Prayer asks us to ask questions and to become people who live in their own homes, in their own patterns, and who know how to open their windows and look around.

I know it is unpopular to say anything but "I'm too busy." Keeping a Sabbath is practically a crime. It may mean that you are slothful or not working hard enough. You already accept responsibility for debt, forgetting that great line in the Lord's Prayer about forgiving our debts as we forgive the debts of others. If you don't have a job or are poor, surely it is your fault. It couldn't possibly be the "fault" of a cultural economy that loves to tell people that they are too busy, while making people too busy, and then blaming them for their own business in a contorted way.

Prayer challenges the cultural economy at its base. It says that being is as good as doing. It says that inner space is a good alternative to outer space. Note that wonderful word "alternative." It means alter (which is the Latin for "other") narrative. When we say we are too busy, we go along with the commanding narrative. We are actually bragging about how we participate in our own oppression. When we say we're not too busy to pray, we move into that room called alternative. There the windows open and let us see.

Deliver us from the hypocrisy of sounding reasonable while being unreasonable, from defending our own anxieties instead of our own hopes. Deliver us from the fiction that we don't have enough time and drive us to the meaning of that claim. Yes, we will die. Yes, we may live before we die. We have the time we have. Let us be glad in it. Let a little depth enter our fear that we don't have enough time. Amen.


Excerpted from Prayers For People Who Say They Can't Pray by Donna Schaper. Copyright © 2014 Donna Schaper. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


"Introduction" Prayers for People Who Maybe Believe,
"Chapter One": Ordinary Prayers When Waking, When Sleeping,
"Chapter Two": Prayers for Those Who Are Too Busy to Pray,
"Chapter Three": Prayers to Calm the Monkey's Mind,
"Chapter Four": Prayers for the Great Recession to Recede,
"Chapter Five": Road-Strengthening Prayers for the Commuting Soul,
"Chapter Six": Prayers for the Broken Heart,
"Chapter Seven": When Hurt, Ill, or Lost,
"Chapter Eight": For That Which Is Other to Us,
"Chapter Nine": Prayers for Hatching, Matching, and Dispatching,
"Chapter Ten": Prayers Through the Months and Seasons,
"Afterword" Where to Start: On Writing Your Own Prayers,

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